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Animal Husbandry and Other Unnatural Acts: A Career in Dog Training

Aug 17, 2007
Do you like dogs? Do they like you back?

Well, in that case, maybe YOU have what it takes to make it in the ruff and kibble world of canine coaching. Maybe. But before you start barking up this career tree, it might be beneficial to get a little information first. The exiting world of dog training covers several areas of expertise, so consider which dog track you want to take.

So, like, what do I need to know? Isn't it just "Sit, Heel, Stay"?

I am so glad you asked. Dog training encompasses much more than simple submission commands. Yes, a career in dog training can and does involve obedience training, but it can also delve much deeper. For instance, you could become an Animal Behaviorist, or a Behavioral Consultant. These professionals burrow into Rover's psyche, working to dig up the long buried bones of his past. Rather than flea the past, they use it to see what makes him tick (Ooh, that one even made ME groan).

You mean I have to be a dog shrink?

Many in the dog-training field, especially Behaviorists, study not only veterinary science, but also psychology. So, in a way, you kind of become a "dog shrink" as you so eloquently put it. But this training helps with more than just the dog. Don't forget, the dogs you will be training generally have owners, and some dog owners don't realize that they may be the cause of the behavioral issues exhibited by their puppy pals (think of the mom of that snotty, screaming kid in the checkout line at grocery store who thinks she's a great parent), and that they need to learn how to interact more effectively with their pets. It's up to a trained dog specialist to uncover and rectify this.

So how much schooling up am I gonna need before I begin my career in dog training?

Many experts in the field of dog training will tell you it takes three to five years of serious, intensive study and hands-on dog training and handling to even become a good novice trainer. Becoming an experienced Master Dog Trainer takes many years of working with the animals, gaining valuable field (or park) experience. You will most likely even pay your dues with a few nips here and there (bites, not nerve-settling sips of schnapps). It's all part of the price - and the leash you can do, if you are serious about a career in dog training.

So, are there like, dog trainer colleges?

There are indeed schools that offer courses in canine training. The program lengths and costs vary from school to school, depending upon the type of study you wish to pursue. There are even online and home study courses (I am familiar with one that charges $995 for a home study video package), but anyone who seriously wants to work with dogs should look for a school with actual animals that you can touch. Sniff around and dig up a school that fits your situation.

The Animal Behavioral College (ABC, get it?) charges about $3000 for its hands-on program to become a Certified Dog Trainer, which takes around six months to complete. And there are some accredited universities and colleges that proffer animal behavior programs. These are not necessarily dog-specific, but nevertheless will assist you in beginning your career in dog training. Cornell University in Ithaca, NY; Guelph University in Ontario, Canada; and Tufts University in Boston, MA are three such universities. Standard college tuition would apply at these schools, but they might throw you a bone and let you apply for financial aid. Beg...beg...good boy!

And then I can become employed as a dog trainer and watch the scratch (money, not the flesh wound) roll in?

No.

Why not?

Good dog trainers - and by that you can read "employed" dog trainers - enter their careers in dog training because of their love of dogs. They work for the intrinsic pleasure of helping man's best friend, not for the money, power, or glory often associated with dog training. Initially, the novice dog trainer may even begin his career by working for a more experienced trainer as his assistant, trainee, or lackey. The pay grade for such positions is, of course, Lhasa Apso-sized - assuming you can find an experience dog trainer who will take you under his paw. If not, when was the last time you read a classified ad seeking a dog trainer?

The way many dog trainers collar a career in dog training is to become self-employed. Hang a shingle on the front door. This has been suggested by the American Dog Trainers Network, which states that you can have a part time career where, nationally, trainers earn an average of $20/hour. Not a bad living. But Uncle Sam is always snapping at the heels of the ambitious with his own statistical snarls and growls. The Occupational Outlook Handbook, put out by the U.S. Department of Labor, states that the median hourly earnings of non-farm animal caretakers were $8.21 in 2002 (the most recent year they have numbers for).

So what should I do? I love them pups!

The bottom line is that a career in dog training is something you do because you have a desire, passion, or drive to work with dogs, not because it's a quick, easy, lucrative career option. As with most any career choice, there is effort involved. Shed your fears (regular brushing helps), put on your shiny coat, and get out there and claw your way to your career in dog training. Or you can just sit...stay...roll over. Good dog.
About the Author
Albert Medinas has developed and maintains the website Dog Training Resources, which answers the most common questions people have about Dog Training. Please visit us at http://www.dogtrainingresources.net today.
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